WIMBLEDON: Best 2 Players, Best Court, Best Moment. Who’s Real No. 1? Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal?

Novak Djokovic reaches his first Wimbledon final, moves to No. 1

Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic. The best two players on the best court in the best moment. For tennis, The New Rivalry gets its big day Sunday in the Wimbledon final. Sure, Nadal already beat Djokovic in the U.S. Open final in September, and that will count when people tally up this rivalry years later. But Djokovic wasn’t at Nadal’s level yet. He still might not be, to be honest, but here’s his chance.

This moment could be to Djokovic what Nadal’s classic win over Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final meant to him. On the other hand, if Nadal wins, he will be the champ of five of the past six majors, and on one of the most dominant runs in tennis history.

Amazing how one match can change things so much. How perfect that it will happen at Centre Court, Wimbledon. It is the ideal way to build interest in the game, too, among Average Joe sports fans who aren’t into tennis otherwise.

Both players won their semifinal matches Friday. Djokovic beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-7 (11-9), 6-3, and Nadal beat Andy Murray 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

Whoever wins Sunday is the best player in the world, even though Djokovic will move to No. 1 no matter what. That’s right, even if No. 1 Nadal beats No. 2 Djokovic, the next day the rankings will read 1 Djokovic, 2 Nadal.


When Djokovic won Friday, he fell to the court as if he had won Wimbledon, then said it was the best feeling he’d ever had on a tennis court. When Nadal won a few hours later, he pumped his fist, shook Murray’s hand and went about his business.

Advantage Nadal. It was the best match Nadal had played all year, the most dominant he had looked.

So who’s going to win Sunday? I’ll go with Nadal, even though Djokovic spent the spring beating him. In Rome, Madrid, Miami and Indian Wells, Djokovic has gone 4-0 against Nadal this year. Two of those wins were on clay, Nadal’s best surface. It’s possible that Djokovic’ game matches up perfectly with Nadal’s in the same way Nadal’s counteracts Federer’s.

Wait, what was my point? Oh yeah, Nadal is going to win. I’m not sure I can explain that one technically, other than to say that he rises for the big moments. He starts storming the court and clubbing his opponent to death. For all the talk that he’s a claycourt specialist, he hasn’t lost on the grass at Wimbledon since the final in 2007; that’s 20 straight wins. He also has won his last seven major finals.

But it’s not numbers. By the end of the Murray match Friday, Nadal seemed to be twice Murray’s size.

Djokovic hadn’t lost a match all year going into the French Open. But he only became Tennis Superman this year, starting by beating Federer and Murray to win the Australian Open. The top players needed time to figure him out.

Murray began mixing up speeds against him in May in Rome to throw of his timing. Djokovic is a timing animal. Murray almost beat him, and then Nadal tried it. Then at the French, Federer perfecting the same book, beat him.

The pressure was on Djokovic there, because he was shooting for a record win streak, and also the No. 1 ranking. Now, the streak is gone and the ranking is his.

Is the pressure off? No. He still needs to beat Nadal in a major.

On Friday, Djokovic’ return-of-serve, the best in tennis, negated Tsonga’s big serve, and his speed and footwork forced Tsonga to keep more and more shots on the court. Those were two things Federer didn’t have against Tsonga a day earlier.

Murray won the first set off Nadal by playing aggressively and strong. But then on a crucial point early in the second set, he missed a setup forehand. That one shot, mixed with minor hip or abdominal pain, seemed to convince Murray that he couldn’t do it. Murray, still ahead, had gone into a funk while Nadal got better and better.

On Sunday, Nadal will go for his 11th major title, strengthening his argument as the best player ever (He is behind Federer in majors, 16-10, but way ahead in head-to-head.) Or, Djokovic could prove that he’s the best.

One match means so much. Just the way it should be. Take Nadal, 7-5 in the fifth.

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

3 responses to “WIMBLEDON: Best 2 Players, Best Court, Best Moment. Who’s Real No. 1? Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal?

  • John

    I am still quite astounded by the lack of knowledge that Greg Couch displays. It is almost trollish. So you are telling me that going 47-2 (if Novak loses) does not make him the best, even though Rafa will have won 2 tournaments on his favorite surfaces? Are you kidding me or is working for AOL make you make up stories as you go? We all know how AOL writer got busted for making up headlines that were not accurate. How far are you guys going to push it?

    I know I know. The fact that you get angry responses from people for your illogical articles warms your heart.

  • John JM

    I agree that this is the perfect place to decide who’s the best player (for now). Commentators have been saying that grass is not Djok’s best surface, just as it hadn’t been for Nadal. Djok doesn’t have his hard court advantage, and Nadal is away from clay. So no excuses, and now we’ll see once and for all if Nole is finally at Rafa’s level. I’m still going with Djokovic, but Nadal’s play against Murray in the latter three sets yesterday was pretty impressive…

  • may

    I think the grand slams are where you are able to determine who the better and best players are. The other tournaments, even thought some may be high tiers, are only three setters if grand slams were the same we would definitely have different rankings. Djokovic is in better condition these days but we will see how well he will be able to handle a five setter with Rafa, he did it with Federer and won at last year’s us open. I would love to see Rafa win another grand slam, I just love to watch him play he seems to do the impossible. Go Rafael Nadal and claim your eleventh title.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: